David Bruce (microbiologist)

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Major-General Sir David Bruce
David Bruce
Born29 May 1855
Melbourne, Australia
Died27 November 1931(1931-11-27) (aged 76)
London, England
Alma materUniversity of Edinburgh
Known fortrypanosome
AwardsCameron Prize for Therapeutics of the University of Edinburgh (1899)
Royal Medal (1904)
Leeuwenhoek Medal (1915)
Buchanan Medal (1922)
Albert Medal (1923)
Manson Medal (1923)
Scientific career

Major-General Sir David Bruce KCB FRS FRCP FRSE[1] (29 May 1855 – 27 November 1931) was an Australian-born British pathologist and microbiologist who investigated Malta fever (later called brucellosis in his honour) and African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness in humans and nagana in animals). He discovered a protozoan parasite transmitted by insects, later named Trypanosoma brucei after him.[2] Working in the Army Medical Service and the Royal Army Medical Corps, his major scientific collaborator was his microbiologist wife Mary Elizabeth Bruce (née Steele), with whom he published more than thirty technical papers.[3]


Early life and education[edit]

Bruce was born in Melbourne, Australia, to Scottish parents: engineer David Bruce (from Airth) and his wife Jane Russell Hamilton (from Stirling), who had emigrated to Australia in the gold rush of 1850. He was an only child. He returned with his family to Scotland at the age of five. They lived at 1 Victoria Square in Stirling. He was educated at Stirling High School[4] and in 1869 began an apprenticeship in Manchester. However, a bout of pneumonia forced him to abandon this and re-assess his career.[5] He then decided to study zoology but later changed to medicine at the University of Edinburgh in 1876.[6] He graduated in 1881.[7]

Medical career[edit]

After a brief period as a general practitioner in Reigate, Surrey (1881–83), where he met and married his wife Mary, he entered the Army Medical School in Hampshire at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley. He passed the military examination in 1883 and joined the Army Medical Services (in which he served until 1919).[2] For his first post he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1884 and was stationed in Valletta, Malta.[8]

Bruce was appointed Assistant Professor of pathology at the Army Medical School in Netley in 1889, and served there for five years.[7] He returned to military field service in 1894 and was posted to Pietermaritzburg, Natal, South Africa. He was assigned to investigate the case of cattle and horse sickness (called nagana) in Zululand. On 27 October 1894, he and his wife moved to Ubombo Hill, where the disease was most prevalent. When the Second Boer War broke out in 1899, accompanied by his wife, he ran the field hospital during the Siege of Ladysmith (2 November 1899 until 28 February 1900). For his service during the war he was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel. In 1899, Bruce was awarded the Cameron Prize for Therapeutics of the University of Edinburgh. In 1900, he joined the army commission investigating dysentery in military camps, at the same time working for the Royal Society's Sleeping Sickness Commission.[2]

Bruce served as a member of the Army Medical Service Advisory Board from 1902 to 1911. In 1914 he became Commander of the Royal Army Medical College, the position he held until his retirement as a Major-General in 1919. He was immediately appointed chairman of the governing body of the Lister Institute. During his career he published more than ninety-seven technical articles, of which about thirty were coauthored by his wife.[7]


He died four days after his wife in 1931, during her memorial service. Both were cremated in London and their ashes are buried together in Valley Cemetery in Stirling, close to Stirling Castle, beneath a simple stone cross on the east side of the main north–south path, near the southern roundel. They had no children.[9]

Scientific contributions[edit]

David Bruce (centre), with members of the Mediterranean Fever Commission (for brucellosis). Themistocles Zammit is at top left.

At the time of Bruce's service in Malta, British soldiers suffered an outbreak of what was called the Malta fever. In 1886, he led the Malta Fever Commission that identified the organism that caused the fever as a bacterium Micrococcus melitensis (later renamed Brucella melitensis).[10] Themistocles Zammit, one of the members of the commission, discovered the carrier of the bacillus in 1905 to be goats' milk. Bruce discouraged the experiments being carried out by Zammit and doubted his ability as a microbiologist. Eventually, when he learned of the positive results linking the fever with unpasteurized goat milk, Bruce tried to discredit the role of Zammit and take credit to himself. To a certain extent he succeeded, as it was renamed after him as brucellosis; however, information about the role of Zammit eventually came to light.[11]

When he was transferred to South Africa, Bruce was sent to Zululand in 1894 to investigate the outbreak of cattle disease which the natives called nagana. In 1903, he identified the causative protozoan, and tsetse fly vector, of African trypanosomiasis ("sleeping sickness").[12] He was Surgeon-General for the duration of the First World War from 1914 to 1919 at the Royal Army Medical College, Millbank, London.[13]

Brucella is the genus and Brucellaceae is the family of the bacteria which was named after him in recognition of his discoveries. Brucella melitensis is the cause of undulant fever in man and of abortion in goats. It is usually transmitted by goat's milk. Trypanosoma brucei,[14] the cause of sleeping sickness, is also named after him.

Honours and awards[edit]

David Bruce's name as it features on the LSHTM Frieze in Keppel Street
David Bruce's name as it features on the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine Frieze in Keppel Street

Bruce was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1899. He served as editor of the Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps between 1904 and 1908. He was the recipient of the Cameron prize of Edinburgh University in 1901. He received the Royal Society's Royal Medal in 1904, the Mary Kingsley Medal in 1905, and the Stewart prize of the British Medical Association. He was Croonian lecturer at the Royal College of Physicians in 1915.[7] He was awarded the Leeuwenhoek Medal in 1915, created a Companion of the Bath (CB) in the 1905 Birthday Honours, knighted in 1908 and upgraded to a Knight Commander of the Bath (KCB) in 1918.[1] He was president of the British Science Association during 1924–1925.[15]

Bruce's name features on the frieze of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Twenty-three names of public health and tropical medicine pioneers were chosen to feature on the School building in Keppel Street when it was constructed in 1926.[16]


  1. ^ a b b., J. R. (1932). "Sir David Bruce. 1855-1931". Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society. 1: 79. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1932.0017.
  2. ^ a b c Cook, G.C. (2007). Tropical Medicine: An Illustrated History of The Pioneers. Burlington (US): Elsevier Ltd. pp. 145–156. ISBN 978-0-08-055939-1.
  3. ^ "Sir David Bruce". www.whonamedit.com. Ole Daniel Enersen. Retrieved 30 January 2017.
  4. ^ "Bruce, Colonel David". Who's Who. Vol. 59. 1907. pp. 234–235.
  5. ^ Stirling's Talking Stones ISBN 1-870-542-48-7
  6. ^ "Former RSE Fellows 1783–2002" (PDF). Royal Society of Edinburgh. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 October 2006. Retrieved 19 September 2010.
  7. ^ a b c d Brown, G. H. "David (Sir) Bruce". munksroll.rcplondon.ac.uk. Royal College of Physicians of London. Retrieved 30 January 2017.
  8. ^ SACHS A (October 1951). "A memorial to major-general Sir David Bruce, K.C.B., F.R.S". Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps. 97 (4): 293–5. PMID 14889518.
  9. ^ http://www.royalsoced.org.uk/cms/files/fellows/biographical_index/fells_indexp1.pdf
  10. ^ Corbel, M.J.; Banai, M. (2015). "Brucella". Bergey's Manual of Systematics of Archaea and Bacteria. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 1–30. doi:10.1002/9781118960608.gbm00807. ISBN 9781118960608.
  11. ^ Wyatt, Harold Vivian (October 2005). "How Themistocles Zammit found Malta Fever (brucellosis) to be transmitted by the milk of goats". Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 98 (10): 451–454. doi:10.1258/jrsm.98.10.451. OCLC 680110952. PMC 1240100. PMID 16199812.
  12. ^ Ellis, H. (March 2006). "Sir David Bruce, a pioneer of tropical medicine". British Journal of Hospital Medicine. 67 (3): 158. doi:10.12968/hmed.2006.67.3.20624. PMID 16562450.
  13. ^ S R Christophers: 'Bruce, Sir David (1855–1931)' (rev. Helen J Power), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2008, accessed 23 May 2014
  14. ^ Joubert, J.J.; Schutte, C.H.; Irons, D.J.; Fripp, P.J. (1993). "Ubombo and the site of David Bruce's discovery of Trypanosoma brucei". Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. 87 (4): 494–5. doi:10.1016/0035-9203(93)90056-V. PMID 8249096.
  15. ^ Presidential Address to the British Association Meeting, held at Toronto in 1924
  16. ^ "Behind the Frieze". LSHTM. Archived from the original on 3 July 2012. Retrieved 21 February 2017.


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